Inspirational Reads For a Season of Giving

There’s an old joke that goes like this: The world is divided into two groups of people — those who divide the world into two groups and those who don’t. That said, there are two groups of people in the world — those who see the meaning of Christmas through a Charles Dickens lens (A Christmas Carol, $4.99) and those who see the meaning of Christmas through a Charles Shultz lens (A Charlie Brown Christmas, $4.95). Me? Dickens is awesome, but come-on, I’ll take a good Linus soliloquy over an Ebenezer Scrooge revelation every time. A quick refresher: Charlie Brown (exasperated): Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is about? Linus VanPelt (earnestly): Sure, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Linus: December 25th is associated with the birth of many pagan deities, including Zeus and Sol Invictus. The Roman Saturnalia would also end around this time. Christianity imported many of these pagan myths and traditions into its own customs around 400 AD. Today Christians express outrage that Christmas is losing its Christian roots. This is ironic since it was Christianity that hijacked the holiday in the first place to make it easier to convert new followers. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful opportunity to share our love with friends and family, and commit acts of goodwill for those that are less fortunate. It is a time for children to revel in their innocence and wonder about the world, and adults to find their inner child. Linus: That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. Yeah! What he said! So instead of suggesting books on how to make Christmas pastries (Very Vegan Christmas Cookies: 125 Festive and Flavorful Treats, $14.95) and doilies (Best Christmas Crafts Ever!, $19.95) and the like (The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story, $6.99. Ages 5+), the books that follow are books that focus on committing acts of goodwill for those who are less fortunate. Many years ago, back when Charles Dickens, Charles Shultz and I would drink hot toddies like the trendsetters that we were, I used to volunteer at the Ingham County Humane Society (now, the Capital Area Humane Society). Now, of course, I would have gladly worked there for pay, but truth be told, the fringe benefits were priceless. If your schedule permits, please call the shelter in Lansing (517) 626-6060 or the Ingham County Animal Control in Mason (517) 676-8370 and ask how you can help the homeless cats and dogs. When they’re closed, or when it’s not your shift try these books: Shelter Dogs: Amazing Stories of Adopted Strays by Peg Kehret ($7.99). This book is for younger readers, ages 8 to 12, and is a collection of true stories about the amazing lives of eight shelter dogs. Many of these dogs were unwanted because of their size, behavior or medical condition. Oh, and for a happy ending, all of the dogs found owners who loved and cared for them. One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter by Leigh, Diane and Geyer, Marilee ($16.95). Half the households in America include an animal companion. Yet, each year, community shelters take in six to eight million unwanted dogs and cats who face an uncertain fate. With compelling photos and moving vignettes, this book chronicles the true stories of 75 animals who entered a typical US animal shelter during one week witnessed and documented by the authors. Every so often, I am struck by something so stark that I have to pause, reassess my priorities and act. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, by Jonathan Kozol ($27) has done just that. Kozol writes about people who through forces beyond their ability to effect, end up homeless. These personal and humane tales of families are as Publisher’s Weekly writes: (an) Engrossing chronicle of lives blighted and redeemed …. Eschewing social science jargon and deploying extraordinary powers of observation and empathy, Kozol crafts dense, novelistic character studies that reveal the interplay between individual personality and the chaos of impoverished circumstances. Like a latter-day Dickens, he gives us another powerful indictment of America’s treatment of the poor. Lansing, like many other cities in America, has been struck by a harsh economy, a horrific disparity of financial means and subsequent homelessness. Lansing also has some essential resources. The website provides information about shelters, and transitional resources for the homeless. Homeless clinic and treatment center resources are also provided. The site also shares that in these tough times, shelters greatly need donations. Contact the shelters at the phone numbers provided at this site to donate items. Most shelters are looking for volunteers. When my kids were very young I tried to impart upon them parental tidbits of wisdom. I taught them all the great paintings at The Louvre started out as refrigerator art, that country music is what the devil plays on his iPod and that community doesn’t begin and end with our next door neighbors. Whether someone lives in Holt; Mason; Hell, Mich.; Boring, Ore.; No Name, Colorado; Hot Coffee, Mississippi; or Nyaka, Uganda — we are all part of the same borderless and all inclusive global community. In A School for My Village ($15), East Lansing’s Jackson Kaguri shares how he came to build the first school for orphans in Uganda, and the struggles he faced during the first few years. In 2012, he resigned as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University to focus full-time on The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. Kaguri has been recognized in Time Magazine’s ‘Power of One’ Series, and spoken to the UN about his work. In 2012, he was selected as a CNN Hero! For more information about the wonderful work of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, please check out their website at: And to wrap this up, the last word goes to Charles Dickens (via Tiny Tim), “God bless Us, Every One!” Yeah! What he said!

Tags: holiday books, Reader's Lounge, season of giving, volunteer


Scott Harris

Liberal, Jewish and vegan. Scott has six kitties, a dog, four kids and a wife who saves peoples' lives. He operates EVERYbody Reads bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.

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